Great guest post by Dermot O’Connell, executive director and general manager, OEM Solutions, Dell EMEA

The Internet of Things (IoT) could have profound implications on our everyday lives – including our everyday safety – but there needs to be much greater collaboration between vendors, partners and customers to make it a reality.

IoT is maturing. When it first burst into the public’s consciousness, it promised us a host of connected household appliances, from remotely-operated thermostats to fridges that would do our shopping for us. Clever as these inventions might be, the real value of the IoT goes far beyond such relative frivolities.

There’s no doubt that a connected toaster makes for a fun image, but it’s unlikely that one will help save your life. On the other hand, integrated sensors can dramatically improve the reliability of systems and machinery on which our safety depends.

How predictive maintenance is impacting safety and costs
Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and predictive maintenance (PdM), has been around in the industrial sense for many years, though it was often expensive, proprietary and mostly embedded into large machines. This was until it evolved into a consumer-driven trend led by technologies like digital wallets, Google Glass, and driverless cars. Intriguing as these developments are, the most valuable benefits of IoT are set to come on the enterprise side.

Predictive maintenance enables engineers to determine the condition of equipment and machinery while it’s in service, and if maintenance should be conducted. The tools and techniques available to perform PdM are increasingly ubiquitous with the rise of IoT solutions. Today, we can embed sensors in almost every conceivable piece of equipment, from engines to pipelines, which can stream back huge volumes of data in real time. Edge Gateway technology can keep the volume of data to a manageable amount. It also enables industrial users to monitor and connect a wide variety of sensors and machine data from equipment like batteries and valves to smart analytic systems. This data enables engineers to monitor performance and notice abnormalities that indicate that a repair is needed.

In another sign that the IoT is growing up, it’s not only industrial systems such as engineering, oil and gas, or utilities that are using connected devices for predictive maintenance. Recent applications include Virgin West Coast’s HealthHub – which monitors the status of trains, infrastructure and signaling automatically – and Chevrolet’s announcement that it will provide predictive technology in its vehicles which will warn drivers about potential maintenance issues.

Preventing catastrophic failure is a strong benefit of predictive analytics, but another huge benefit for businesses is the impact it can have in lowering budgets. In a business landscape where companies are looking at every factor that affects the bottom line, it’s attractive to be able to reduce costly maintenance or have to replace irreparably damaged equipment.

Aligning methodologies
When discussing the challenges facing the IoT, business leaders talk about the difficulty of collaborating across a complex ecosystem of vendors and service providers as one of the key issues. Some businesses have been busy working on their own IoT networks and devices and have failed to give consideration to developing a common standard that will enable all these devices to communicate with each other effectively. Solution providers should be aligned to IoT and Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications in order to implement smart solutions which bolster safety standards. Partnering with independent software vendors is a critical step in the bridge between the industry potential of IoT and a profitable market reality.

Because IoT is where the physical world of operational technology (OT) overlaps with the digital world of Information Technology (IT), solution providers need a proven track record in enabling collaboration between OT and IT. There is no limit to the amount of data sources which can be connected overall and businesses need to collect the data which is going to support appropriate analysis and contribute to the bottom line, be it financial gain or supporting tasks like predictive maintenance. There’s so much potential with IoT, there’s a risk that all devices are connected – which would lead to an unmanageable volume of data being connected. Experienced technology and software vendors are best placed to guide customers to understanding the most appropriate implementation of sensors.

Collaboration is key
IoT is growing up fast, but it’s a long way from being a mature technology. If we are to deliver the transformational change promised by IoT we need full interoperability, including a connectivity framework that is open, secure and manageable. Regarding PdM, components do not operate in a vacuum, and the health of a system depends on the functioning of its constituent parts. The mature Internet of Things requires full interoperability and visibility for sensors and connected devices; this then is the challenge that we need to overcome if the IoT is to fulfil its potential.

As an industry, collaboration between partners, customers and even competitors is key in order to develop a unified ecosystem for the IoT. Significant strides have already been made and those that have a long pedigree in M2M communications are perfectly-placed to implement smart solutions which bolster safety standards.

IoT promises us a quantum leap in safety and reliability of the M2M systems used every day in business and PdM can make such a positive difference to safety standards worldwide. While the move to fully integrated PdM systems isn’t going to happen overnight, knowing it’s possible and already happening is powerful. PdM can help to identify a small problem early, which may result in savings and preventing failure. Evolution takes time, but data-driven innovation is here to stay.

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